Most writers live with a few hidden bodies. Peek in a sock drawer, and you’ll find that half-written manuscript from college, full of typos and grammar mistakes. In the closet is the novel that’s thinly based on your last bad breakup. You know, the one where the character based on your ex is a bumbling idiot with a terribly embarrassing rash.
There, under the bed, is the business book you wrote three years ago—the one you were sure was going to make it big, right up until all the rejection slips started coming in. You know how some people hide NSFW files in virtual folders labeled “taxes”? Well, on your laptop, computer forensics wouldn’t turn up beefcake and lace—it would unearth that screenplay treatment you started four years ago.
If it’s been some time since you’ve taken a look at the book skeletons in your closet, maybe it’s time to pull out that ream of paper and blow the dust off, because here at RTC we know how to do some CPR on those books:
1) Read through it fast.
Fortify yourself however you need to. Promise yourself a treat after reading, bet your spouse $10 you can do it, or bribe yourself with chocolate. Whatever it takes.
Just make sure you read fast. When you start to read something you wrote a long time ago, all the awkward sentences and bad characters and obvious flaws will jump out at you. That critical voice will show up, ready to sneer. You need to stay one step ahead of it. Jot down notes if you must, but don’t change a word yet—not until you get to the final page.
2) Go back to basics and dig down to the passion.
After your speedy read-through, take a breath and consider what worked. Get excited. You wrote something! Whatever the flaws, no matter how far you got (or didn’t get), this is a big accomplishment. Bask in that glow for a moment.
Now get to work.
Consider the parts of your writing that have some energy. What grabbed you as you read? What made you think “I wrote that?!” Think back to when you started this now-abandoned creative project. What drove you to the keyboard or notebook each day? Is there an idea or mood you can recapture?
If you’re still struggling to recapture love for the book, consider what you really wanted to share when you first started to write. What story or idea sparked something warm right in your gut? What idea really attracted you but scared you at the same time? Start there.
3)Consider where you went wrong.
Remember all those gremlin-like flaws that leaped out at you and laughed in your face when you read? The obvious comma splices, the flat characters? Now’s the time to tackle them. Consider what three elements would make the biggest difference for your book. Do you need to fix basic grammar? What if you ditched the main character for someone more flawed, more human, more interesting? Play a little, experimenting with what you think might work.
4) Think outside the box.
If your story or book still feels lifeless, you’re going to have to dive deeper. Instead of “working” on your book or story, start playing. Use glue and magazines to create a storyboard or vision board for your idea, including quotes and images that capture the ideas, feelings, and images you want in your work. Did you find a perfect photo that captures how you want your character to look? A quote that could double as a tagline for the book? Great. Put it on your board. Hang it where you work to remind you what belongs in your book. Create a playlist to capture how you want your book to feel. Read parts of your book out loud. Where do you stumble? Where do you stand up straighter with pride?
Working with pen and paper or your keyboard, switch genres for a paragraph or two. Are you writing a business book? Write it as a horror novel for one page—or as a romance. If you are writing fiction, have one of your characters do something out of character or ridiculous. The goal here is to shake the dust loose and stop the feeling of paralysis that makes you think, “I can’t do this.” You can do something, even if it’s not work you will eventually put into print. You can start moving—very often, the road will become clear the more you work and play with your material.
5) Seek professional help.
Are you a serial book burier? Really stuck? Running out of sock-drawer space because of all the half-finished books? You may need to call in the pros. An RTC manuscript analysis or coach can get you back on track.
A manuscript analysis allows a professional writer and editor to take a look at your manuscript. He or she can tell you what’s working, what’s not, and what next steps you can try to get unstuck. By the end of a manuscript analysis, you will have a reliable roadmap to the finish line.
A coach is by your side every step of the way, cheering you on and offering constructive help and advice to keep you moving to the final page. It’s someone who believes in your book as much as you do and keeps you accountable. When those voices of doubt start to peep, a coach’s reassurances can drown out the inner critics.
Whatever you do, don’t entirely give up on the buried literary bodies in your closet or on the cloud. You’ve kept them there for a reason, and when you come back, you never know what could happen.
In 1905, L.M. Montgomery wrote a novel about a red-headed orphan. She couldn’t get it published and ended up putting it away in a hat box. When she found the dusty box in 1907, she hauled it out. It is now known around the world as her most famous book, Anne of Green Gables.
Stephen King, Robert Louis Stevenson, and many other writers deep-sixed manuscripts that later became some of their best-known works. Who knows what you’ll find when you get ghoulish and start digging around in your own literary bone yard?